long distance hiking
“Will you be doing that trail that people take to find themselves?” I was asked by my Sister before I actually thought, “Huh, why not?” about two years after.
I had run away from winter 2017 to South East Asia- the reason for this blog title. I stayed in India for about 1.5 months. This country is a separate world, full of contradictions where love and exploitation go hand-in-hand and are received from everyone around you. I flew to Thailand where, after I volunteered as a Shepherd for a few weeks, I hitchhiked all the way down to Singapore to catch a flight back to Bulgaria for the spring (I arrived during a blizzard so I don’t know if you can call it that). I felt like a prodigal son of sorts. When the plane landed, I felt as if I was coming back to a place of safety and love. An interesting experience for sure.
But all of this is not the purpose of today’s blog post. The point of the above is to explain just how I came to have no more money, and this is an important event in my life which would lead to a grand change in my personal thinking, travel style, and relationships with others around me. What was this event? Well, primarily, I was robbed in Malaysia. Womp, Womp, Womp.
Kuala Lumpur, city of the most disgusting fruit, Durian, I have ever put in my mouth (Imagine soggy bread that tastes like onions). Left my bag for a few minutes at a café/bar and bam, all of my emergency cash was gone. Left my passport and debit card which I am grateful for. But what to do, aye? I already paid for my flights for the next few months. Well, no need to worry for now. Stayed in Bulgaria for a month before flying to Berlin to meet a friend and hitchhike across Europe- Needed to pick up my hiking equipment in Zakopane, and then make my way to Spain for EL Camino.
There are a handful of different trails all labeled EL Camino, but with different traits which they are subtitled for: Camino Frances, Camino Del Norte, And more. I spend a little on a bus to Irun for the Northern Camino after learning about three stereotypes for this particular walk- 1. Significantly less people, 2. More beautiful views, and 3. It’s more difficult. All three of which were true. Well, what was my problem? I only had 120.00 Euro and only 14.00 USD in my bank account.
Many people, I believe, would have not thought about doing the trail with this depressing financial situation. Fortunately, I’ve never been like most people, and this was my thinking,
“Okay, if I do not try the trail, I definitely fail. But I could try to complete the trail with this pocket change, and that way I have at least a small chance of success.”
I had some rules however.
- Never ask for anything other than water.
- Accept only from people who want to give, do not use guilt speech.
- Do not be angry if people do not give.
Thus began my journey of sleeping outside in rainy weather, having shoes that were literally falling apart at the seams, being dirty almost everyday, and going hungry often. Here are some lessons, and maybe bits of wisdom which I have gained from this adventure.
Upon Realizing You Have No Money.
Well what can I say? I panicked for a few minutes, but with a hefty resume of traveling around the globe, I was already used to applying a technique to remain calm- state what is true in your life concerning your basic needs, “I have money today to give me what I need.”
At the time, I had 120 Euro. This is not enough to hike the next 30 days, but it was enough for at least a week or two, so I focused on this instead of what would happen to me after these weeks. I was worried, and this stress was constantly turned on like a leaky faucet, not really noticeable, but it builds after awhile. The first time the water was let down the drain was when the religious community ‘Twelve Tribes’ gave me tea, eggs, and the most delicious bread I have ever tasted. It was only the first day, but I cried from this free love. A ferry man let the 1 Euro fee pass for me, and the same religious group offered me a place to stay and food in exchange for work. “You can stay as long as you need to, my friend.” I moved on however, and they gave me more food.
There is a lot of flapping back and forth between serene peace and desperate anxiety. But I worked through these sprouts of doubt, reminding myself of biblical teachings such as “The Lord God gives even to the sparrows their daily food, how much more will he give to you?” along with constant reminders that I have made it this far just fine, and that I need not worry about tomorrow. This was a lesson for me: I ran out of money, and still there is a way- the way of Love.
Upon Status and Relationships.
Everyone you meet along the Camino asks you for your story. They seem interested, until the words, “I have no money” fly from your lips, and then they want to run away from you. This happened countless times, the judgements come like the rain which accompanied almost every day of the trail. When you have no money, somehow everything you say is heard with suspicion, your advice is scoffed at, and your lifestyle loses credit. This was an incredibly interesting experience for me, as I am quite used to be listened to and asked to share the wisdom which I have. To go from a popular world traveler to a homeless and dirty bum was a very powerful transition. I felt very lonely at times, and often like my value as a human was only based on where I stood on the economic ladder.
I was often laughed at when I said that more people should travel. I was advised to leave my “silly” lifestyle to pursue something that is beneficial for my bank account. All of the people who told me these things were, very often, deeply unhappy with their lives. And yet I, with no penny to my name, was smiling everyday.
Not everyone judges you for this of course, and I did meet many people (mainly towards the end of the trail) that were inspired and excited for the way I lived. They encouraged me, interviewed me in one case, and talked of me to their family members. One man remarked, “I told my mother about you and she was so amazed that you have such a positive attitude in your circumstances, it’s really inspiring man!” And many other similar statements. I met some people here that I am greatly looking forward to seeing again, hopefully I will make this happen in the next year.
Upon Receiving What You Need.
Sometimes, travelers gave me money. Sometimes beer, a hot meal, or they paid for my groceries. This was not so common for me however, and so still the little that I had slowly declined more and more. I never had to pay for accommodation because I had my tent with me. Two or three times, the Camino Albergues allowed me to stay for free or sleep on the floor. “You can sleep here… but I’m not telling you this…” Yes sir, thank you sir. Many Albergues would straight up say, “NO, This is not a charity house!”. And in one case, I wasn’t allowed to use the toilet or get water from the tap because “This is not a public toilet.” I have received much strife from the people, but in the end I always found a way to sleep someone safe and usually dry, which is the important thing. There is no rule that says people must make exceptions for me, or to give me kindness. I know this now, but I hope that I can now recall the feelings I had, and give to those who ask of me in the future.
There is also something VERY humbling about having to rely on those around you. I had no power. No say. No independence. I had to take what they offered me. I had to admit that I could not do it alone, that I, in fact, needed other people like a child needs a parent. I felt very ashamed of this for many days. It took me a long time to simply receive from those around me what I needed. Though I learned that some people wanted to give to me, and if this was the case, I felt very happy. These sorts of people never treated me like I was nothing, but instead saw me as a human being. I liked these people very much, and they taught me how to take what I need from giving hands.
Upon Obeying Convictions.
Okay. It is important to talk about something which came to me a week into the trail. I would offer everything I had been given to those around me. If someone bought me a beer, I would offer half of it to someone who had no drink. My philosophy became,
“What is freely received ought to be freely given.”
This later transformed into the understanding that everything I own, in fact, are simply consequences of having received something for free. My clothing, my backpack, all of my things came from an income that came from a job that came from someone offering me a job. I didn’t do anything to accidently bump into someone who knew of so-and-so and that whats-his-face needed a worker, etc. My very first job at 16 years old was given to me because my elder sister was already working there and put in a good word for me. My job at DEC came to me because a Ukrainian woman told me about it. I did not choose to be born in America with the family I had or the opportunities that came to me- all I did was take the fruits of life at my feet. I didn’t produce a single one. And so, I began offering not only what was given to me on the trail, but also what I had already.
At the very time I was contemplating all of this, I stayed at an Albergue by donativo. These were donation based places, often in dormitory style, sometimes with food included, but mostly with cold showers (or no showers), and sometimes risked bedbugs. But this one was beautifully run by a man named Abuelo Earnesto. I was told about the projects he has done for Spain including a youth project by working free trade over seas, a prison project where convicts could volunteer in the Albergue instead of staying at the prison, and the Pilgrim project to create a safe place for those who walk the trail. So moved was I about the work he was doing, so touched by his devotion to prisoners, that I felt a still, small voice inside of me, “Give all the money you have to this group.” I already knew that the entire place ran on money donated by the pilgrims, that no government or religious institutions funded this spot.
I had a great fight inside of myself at this point. “I need this money for myself,” I thought, “Just give 10, and be done with it.” Things like this came and went from my mind. Donate money when I make more money, you deserve everything you have, etc. At this time over dinner, I spoke with two lovely Australian women who said to me in a topic totally unrelated, “Sometimes you just need to let go of your fears and do something crazy for the life you want. Don’t let fear run your life.” And they had no idea that they gave me the last push to drop all my remaining currency (Which had gone back up to 120 that day from a person who gave me money for new shoes), into the donation box. my thought was, “Well, that’s that.” and somehow I felt freed from something deep inside of me. Maybe being unchained from money, something I had my entire life, was a deep fear that when I let it go, I realized it was only an illusion.
But I was very afraid. I prayed to a God that I felt distant from, “What will happen to me now?” and I cried.
Santander, me, and my guitar in the streets of the city- I made 7 Euros in 30 minutes. Okay, so after I left Earnesto’s place, I thought what I could do. I had a guitar with me for the last year. Well, maybe I could busk. This was something that was a great fear for me, but I remember a friend of mine telling me,
“When you are hungry enough, this fear will go.”
And he was right. I had Busked in Malaysia which helped me get over my fear a bit. But now it was do or starve. So I did in Santander, I Did in Gijon, I did in Ribadeo and Santigao- and I made bank, guys. I made about 10-13 Euros every hour of playing. I had no Amp, and no electronics. Just me, my guitar, and my hat on the pavement in front of me. But I did it. There were times where I got to the next city with only 1 Euro in my pocket, such as when I eventually made it to Santiago, and again these times were frightening. But you can’t think about such fears, otherwise you don’t have the energy to make it further.
Upon Living With Little and Finding Happiness.
I made it to my goal. 30 days of hiking, 20-30 kilometers everyday, 9-10 kilograms on my bag. With shoes that had the largest holes in them, shirts with rips, damaged backpack, straps were breaking, my socks smelled so bad one could throw up, and I could only shower every 5 or 6 days. I went hungry sometimes. But I always smiled.
In Santiago, I met many other people who completed the trail with no money. A friendly Irish lad, a rainbow German girl, and a very crude American guy who sang about vaginas. In the city there, I was instantly accepted into a community of homeless people when they saw me on the street with my guitar. I stayed for a few days and made over 200 Euros, I slept in a park by climbing over a very tall fence after midnight (and leaving around 7am), but I learned something. I don’t need much.
And the adventure. A dear friend once told me that once you run out of money, the real adventure begins. There’s just something surreal about sneaking over a 3 meter fence at 1am, setting up a tent with the silhouette of a cathedral being lit by the moonlight, trying to be quiet. And there’s something so powerful in making it to the end of the world with shoes crumbling with every step, to succeed, to find new shoes just sitting on a rock, to eat food with the hippies, and dance around a large fire on the shore with good company and beautiful connections. I can do all things.
One day, I hope to walk another Camino, but when that time comes, maybe I’ll have some money in my pocket. Now, I work at Ukraine once again for the summer to make some money once more. Life is good, life is beautiful, and always life will give you what you need when you need it.
Any questions, write in the comments below, subscribe to the blog, and live the life you want. If I can walk for 30 days with no money saved, so you too can do all things.
I’ve heard it said that a person is never their true self unless they are sure they are alone; if this is true, then I must truly be a lunatic.
I have found myself, when walking in fields completely absent of others, reciting and reenacting whole musical scores such as “Jack’s Lament,” from The Nightmare Before Christmas or “If I Were A Rich Man,” from The Fiddler on The Roof. I leap from fences and logs and stumps, thrusting my hands to the sky, becoming quite animated- which made it all the more embarrassing when I walked right past someone I hadn’t seen. C’est la vie.
The Netherlands was a fun country. Rotterdam was cool, Amsterdam was overrated and smelled like tourism, marijuana, and sex but it was the ghostly sound of Dutch that seduced me. I love the way they say good morning, sounding like “Huda Morgen,” with a windy whisp of the throat and tongue on the R. And oddly enough, I thought I could understand them, even though mentally I knew that I didn’t. Such were the similarities between our respective languages.
It was in Amelo, far east, where I met someone that ended up more than a traveling acquaintance. Linda became my friend, and I actually spent more time at her place than I planned!! A first for me, as I am usually constantly moving. She introduced me to her Italian friend, and I cooked spaghetti with my homemade vegan recipe. Frederico said it was perfect, a great feat apparently, that a real Italian enjoyed a traditionally Italian meal prepared by an American.
As I live and breath, my favorite part of traveling is meeting new and interesting people who are willing to share their life with me. I have felt this multiple times with many, a sort of vulnerability that makes possible the great connection I feel- like a secret knowledge we share together. This is still somewhat of a mystery for me, however, and maybe I can understand it as I grow.
I have felt the first pangs of loneliness while sitting in a campsite in Amsterdam. I knew they were destined to come sooner or later- you can´t expect to uproot one`s entire life and not feel even the least bit lonely. But come the morning, I felt quite alright, and ready to take on the world once more. I regret nothing of leaving. I truly feel alive, a little anxious, but blessed all the same. Solitude is a gift, and I recieve it gladly. But it is still okay to miss people now and again.
I walked across the German border and took a train to Munster. Not sure where I should stay, I began walking towards a green splotch on my map (a possible Forrest?) and took a small break in a thrift store; I hoped to find a book in English, as the one I had was almost finished. In broken German, I tried to ask for one when a woman of about 50 or 60 spoke. “I have a book in English in my home if you’d like. It’s one of Steinbeck’s, but it was too complicated for me.,” she said. Of course I accepted. I made myself comfortable and waited for her return. A bad smell lingered on my clothing, and my thoughts were filled with doubts- “where would I sleep? It was getting late. What would I eat? Where can I clean my clothes” and so on. Upon returning, the woman gave me not Steinbeck, but a small collection of short stories, and then offered me a bed for the night.
“I invite you in because you have a good energy in you, and I hope that somewhere someone will help my own traveling son as I help you,” she explained. This isn’t the first time I’ve been told I had “Good energy.” A French man asked me where it came from and I honestly didn’t know what he was talking about. The woman gave me beer, cheese, bread, and other food that night. She helped me clean my clothing, and I slept like a baby.
Hannover was amazing: I met a group of couchsurfers and found a place to stay there after my CS plan fell through. Tip for anyone wanting to use it: Make sure you confirm everything so you don’t misunderstand like I did. All of them were interesting, to say the least. Garret, the guy who helped me, had hosted hundreds of people. There was a Frenchman who, “Didn’t know why he was in Germany.” He was quite hilarious, with a snarky and sarcastic sense of humor. Rebecca, a German shoe maker who invited me for tea the next day was an intelligent and kind woman. Upon meeting her she said, “You’re English is very good!” Which gave us all a laugh because I should hope it’s good- it’s my native tongue!!
I made my way to Berlin to meet with Claudia, one of the coolest, most chill persons I’ve ever met in my life. Actually, she reminded me of my dear friend Alex, and I told her as much. She took me to “The REAL Berlin,” where tourists don’t often go… Ever. This tour included three spots: Tippie Land- a homeless community where you can set up a tent and stay in, Kopi- a punk rock squat, and Yaam an African hang out. Kopi was amazing. The sign on their door read:
“We will not tolerate Facists, Racists, Sexists, Homophobes, Tourists, or Cameras.”
There was a drunk Italian man, fat, with a head too large for his body equiped with a winter hat way too small for his head. Other memorables would be the loud American girl, pierced to the nines, who sleeps in graveyards for their cheap and peaceful qualities, and a Finnish rock musician traveling around Europe.
After playing music with Claudia the next morning, swapping the guitar back and forth, I decided that I couldn’t take it anymore and bought my self a small guitarlini. Decked me 130€ but if I play on some city streets… 😀
I gathered by things and made my way to Karstadt, where, after missing my train twice, I met my first workawa hosts! They took care of six horses: Santos, Argus, Akazie, Arik, Abbe, and Aiva. I spent the next two weeks (ish), shoveling horse crap into buckets, painting doors, cleaning stables, and antagonizing the pet dogs (Not really, but come on, faking fetch throws is classic). One of the dogs, a black and white poodle named Nemo, seems to have taken a liking to me; whenever I would play the guitar, he would find a way to stroll over and lie down next to me. This, as you can imagine, made me feel quite cool. The other dog, Mahjo, was far too cool and highclass for my rugged ways. But after sneaking her some delicious treats, she warmed up to me.
At one point, I was playing the guitar and this huge, fat cat waltzes right up to where I am. It looks at me, and I look at it, and this must have signaled the creature. It jump upon the table in front of me, and steped right over the guitar and found its way comfortably resting in my lap, purring loudly, rubbing its head against me. Thanks a lot, cat. What did I do? The same thing any one who has been chosen by a cat does- pet the crap out of that thing and earn more purs. Teddy was his name.
Steffi, the daughter, works with training horses via positive reinforcement: a system of training that I can definitely support, with no beating, whipping, or otherwise painful wazs of mistreating the animals. She uses a clicker strategie and took the time to give me some basic lessons. I now feel quite confident that I can teach a horse (or any other animal) that a click means a treat, and a treat means I liked what you did, which then causes the action to resurface again and again. I learned so much from this workaway, that I am quite excited for the next ones. You can see her website here. Its in German so beware.
I am back in Berlin, spending a few days here before I head towards Poland and the Zakopane mountains. Packed up my bag again, ready to hit the road once more, only this time I am a little more musical, and know a little bit more in this world of endless knowables. Till next time, share this post, subscribe, comment below.